Guest Post: My Life with the Society For Creative Anachronism, by RedHeadedGirl

I’ve always been a “make-believe” kind of girl. I started dabbling in table-top role-playing, and moved on to online text-based role playing, and went to Rennaisance Festival when ever I could (not easy when I didn’t have a driver’s license and tickets were expensive and my parents would only go once a year), and I heard about this “SCA” thing once or twice, but had no idea what it was.

Then a friend who I knew from the bad old days of AOL mentioned that she did this SCA thing, and then I went to college. There was a student SCA group, and my AOL friend informed me I was going to check them out and that was just shy of 18 years ago.

The Society for Creative Anachronism is a world-wide educational organization that focuses on researching and recreating (…kind of…) the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It started, as these things do, as a May Day party in Berkeley in 1966 hosted by author Diana Paxson. It was a Grand Tournament, with fighting (plywood swords were involved) and people kept having similar parties, which included Marion Zimmer Bradley and Poul Anderson, and here were are, in the 50th year with over 60,000 participants.

The world is divided into 20 Kingdoms, most of which are in the US and Canada, but there’s one that takes up Europe (they have events in REAL CASTLES) and there are groups in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Each kingdom has defined borders, and there are local groups usually corresponding with metropolitan areas or other regions (I’m in the Barony of Carolingia, which is the greater Boston metro area. The Barony of Smoking Rocks encompasses southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod. As two examples).

The main thing the SCA is focused around is events- a day, a weekend, or up to two weeks, where we get together and wear medieval clothes, fight, eat medieval food, sing, ride horses, learn arts- an event can be as focused as sitting around telling stories all day, or as universal as having just about every activity you can think of that relates to the Middle Ages (save, perhaps, dying of the plague or burning witches). You could go to an event every weekend of the year, depending on how far you’re willing to drive.

People participating pick a “persona,” a medieval name and idea fo when and where you’re from. How detailed a persona is ranges from just a name, and wearing clothing from many different times and places, or only wearing clothes from a very specific time and place, and having a detailed persona story. The great thing is, there’s no one true way. All that’s required to show up at an event is an attempt at pre-17th century garb, and most groups have a stash of loaner garb for new people.

In my barony, we have activies and practices that people can go to every week. We have a dance band and a choir, we have dance practices every other week. Storytellers get together every month to read period stories or poetry, or discuss which translation of an Arthurian legend is the best. The cooks guild meets every month to experiment with medieval recipes, while the Accademia D’ella Danza researches and recreates dances from period dance manuals. There are sewing groups, and embroidery groups, and people who weave and work leather and brew alcohol and make armor. We have a weekly fight practice and a weekly fencing practice, plus archery and thrown weapons (knives, axes, javelins). We have a Mummer’s Guild that puts on plays (not always Shakespeare!) Basically, if someone did an activity in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, we have people who do it in the SCA.

Oh fighting? Our fighting style is not period- our swords are made out of rattan and aren’t padded, and the armor has specific safety standards that don’t always apply to period construction, but some of the armor people use is gorgeous and as period as possible, and some of it is made out of pickle barrels.

Fighting with rattan (called “heavy fighting”) is so integral to the SCA that its how we choose our Royalty. Each kingdom has two or three tournaments a year that determines who the next King and Queen will be. Fighters fight for the honor of a consort, and the pair will become King and Queen (or King and King or Queen and Queen) for four to six months. We’ve had one woman become Queen by winning a Crown Tournament, and most do have at least one woman combatant.

Between the history, the pageantry, and the friends I’ve met through the SCA, I’ve become a better person. I have friends all over the world, and have developed people skills that you can’t buy with management training seminars. I’ve worked with volunteers on everything from planning a feast for 150 people to running a local group with many divergent interests. It’s been 18 years and I still love it.